I apologise for the corny and somewhat dramatic title to this article, but the others were much worse. If you’ve kept up to date with the happenings of my YouTube and Twitch channels, you might have noticed there hasn’t been much, if any, activity over the past few months, with only a gameplay demo for a Kickstarter game. There are reasons for that and plans in motion, so stick around and I’ll let you know the details!
Tales of Zestira is finally done!
After 8 months, 110 episodes—and many more I either deleted accidentally or lost due to file corruption—and hours of footage, the game is finally done and I’m very proud of it. What started as a regular playthrough of a massively long game ended up being the first game I created custom thumbnails for and now at the end it’s the first of the LawfulGeek plays series to have extensive video editing done on them. Continue reading Tales of Zestiria – It’s a Wrap!
As you may know, for the past few months I’ve been recording Let’s Play videos under the name LawfulGeek Plays. I’ve had a few fun runs and will hopefully have a lot more in the future, as I really enjoy it and I’m learning a lot, not just on hosting videos but the editing of them as well.
If you’re thinking of doing this yourself, there’s a good chance you won’t know where to start, or you might doubt your skills. The only way to truly know if you’re suited for this—and I still don’t know, by the way, maybe I really suck at it—is to give it a go and see what happens, but on the software side, editing and recording, maybe my good buddy Timlah (from GeekOut South-West) and I can give you a hand.
These are the tools we use to record our videos and edit them if we need to.
To record my videos I use the same software as when I stream on the LawfulGeek Twitch channel: XSplit or OBS. I have hotkeys mapped to start and stop local recordings easily, even while playing, and a large external drive to hold the videos.
For these I merely set up the scenes, put in my sources and just hit record and stop as I go along. I have a fair amount scenes set up, some for streaming and others for recording. I also always have my mobile phone on hand as a stopwatch, to make sure I end the episodes at the 15-minute mark.
In terms of audio while recording, both XSplit and OBS record the audio along with the video but I use Auto-Ducking in Real Time to lower the in-game volume while I talk, as I want the audience to enjoy the in-game audio while I’m not talking. It’s not a perfect system, of course, and I make plenty of mistakes, but it works for me so far. At least I haven’t received any negative feedback on the use of audio ducking.
For video recording software, I use something called SimpleScreenRecorder (Yes, in one word). This piece of software has a few special features that make it really useful to me. One of the features is the ability to pick the window that you want to record, rather than recording the whole window. This means that I don’t have to fiddle around with resolutions or anything during the editing stage. Another useful feature is the ability to set profiles, so I have one for my recordings and one for streaming. Finally, I also use SimpleScreenRecorder to capture in-game audio.
For voice recording, I simply use Audacity to capture my vocals separately. I can then edit my vocals, remove any stupid noises (which I’ve found that I make a lot of those) and also make any necessary edits. If I want to stretch a word out for emphasis on a video, I can do so through Audacity. It’s also nice keeping this separate to the video, as if you lose one, you don’t lose both of them!
My editing experience is fairly limited, and only recently did I start working on videos after they’re done. For the most part I don’t edit videos very often, as I keep a tight-ish leash on what I do while recording and leave it as is. Since I record audio and video together, there’s no need to sync them up afterwards.
But if I have to edit, at the moment I’m using Lightworks—free edition. I’m still learning to use it and it’s not the most intuitive of tools. But it is very precise and I can edit down to the smallest of frames. My latest edits have all been cuts, removing unnecessary parts of videos, such as ten minutes of back-to-back deaths in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and some in an upcoming Darksiders episode where the game crashed. I managed to join the second before the crash and the moment I returned to that spot almost seamlessly, and on the first go. I’m quite proud of that to be honest.
As I work on more videos I think of more ways to edit, particularly since Timlah does such an amazing job with his videos, it pushed me to do better!
In the coming months, I’ll probably switch to Adobe Premiere, which I’ve used in the past and liked a lot.
Kdenlive is my editor of choice, which I’m slowly learning more about as I go along. When I started, I didn’t know what a title screen was, thinking it was literally just for a title, rather than to add words to my videos. I’ve learned about transitions and overlays, as well as how to make images and words spin around. I’ve learned how to make things wobble and how to make images bounce across the screen.
Kdenlive allows me to go right down to an individual frame and work off that. I am very particular about this, as during my videos, I like to add a “hit”, “miss” and “block” onto the screen whenever these actions occur. By going down to the very frame, I can make these words appear exactly when the action happens.
So those are our tools of choice. If I were to mention something else, it would be: get a good microphone, as audio quality is paramount. It’s not software but it will have an impact on everything you do.
If you use different tools, let us know in the comments, we’re always keen to learn new things!
Bad Blood is still ongoing, but as I’ve been drafting up and sending query letters for my other work, to get representation and hopefully fulfill the dream I have of publishing a novel, I’ve felt my storytelling side ache for another story, to put something new on a page. But there are stories I’m not yet ready to tell, worlds of science and fiction and crime that have to stay in my Mental Attic for a little while longer. These are the stories I’m most excited about and I hope someday they’ll get their chance.
But I do want to write something new, something for The Mental Attic’s readers to enjoy, and as with Bad Blood, I want it to challenge me, to push me beyond the comfort zone and make me struggle with my prose, make me learn more about myself, my readers and become a better writer. Bad Blood is challenging my creativity by not having a plan or an outline and it’s pushing the quality of my work with the second restriction: only one editing pass. I’m putting to use everything I learnt in the past year thanks to working with one of the best writers and editors I have ever met, she who wields the Red Pen of Doom. Continue reading The Great Fantasy 2015
Last time I gave you the second draft for the opening scene based on the Melvin Backbreaker outline I wrote weeks ago. As it was a second draft, I cleaned up a few mistakes, changed the scene flow and added a new sub-plot. Let’s go over the changes. Continue reading Writing a Novel: Streamlining Sample
A few weeks ago I presented the first draft of the opening scene of the Melvin Backbreaker story, based on the sample outline I wrote before. As it was a first draft example, it was intentionally bad in many ways:
- Too much telling, no enough showing: I often said what characters felts instead of showing it other ways.
- Not enough sensory input: the first draft you can hear, but you can’t really see or smell it.
- Introduce useless characters, such as the clerk brining Melvin the letter.
- Some unnecessary info-dumps.
- Inconsistent characterisation for Melvin, making him seem more manipulative and in control than he should’ve been.
You’ll find a revised version below. Mind you that this is a second draft, meant to address some storytelling issues from the first one as well as introduce new elements that I didn’t the first time around. Because of this, the text might end up longer than before, but that’s why the next stage, in a few weeks is the Streamlining, where I’ll cut out the fat and just leave the important bits.
“What the fuck do you mean I don’t have the right papers? I looked it up on the rect!” The big burly man in biker outfit shouted, indignant, pulling out a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket. Melvin pushed himself as back as he could in his chair to avoid the man’s tobacco and cheap whiskey breath, which made it through the thick protective glass between them. “For Twelve-A in duplicate, forty-b, driver’s license and DNA sample!” The customer recited. “It’s all here!” he pushed the paper against the glass, making the thick crystal strain and groan. Roided by the looks of it this one.
Melvin looked at him apologetically, as he did to every customer, perfectly practiced, convincing and completely insincere. “Oh…dear…” He let the words hang and sighed, shaking his head. “You read the old site. The new one asks for other documents. Here.” Melvin leaned to the side, careful not to slip out and fall off his hover chair, opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of papers thick enough to kill rodents. “I compiled this guide myself!” He beamed proudly, once again practiced and even more insincere. “It’ll give you everything you need to know.”
The biker flipped through a few pages and his brow furrowed in confusion over the twenty different forms, in triplicate, certified, notarised and with every judge’s DNA sample and official document copies he should bring. Melvin could see the muscles in his arms bulge and his skin turn a sunrise-shade of red. “Is this some kind of fucking joke?” The biker bellowed, slamming a fist against the glass, triggering the alarm. The emergency sound blared loudly from the speakers and securobots emerged from the walls. “I don’t have the fucking time to do all this fucking shit, I’m just here to renew my fucking driver’s licence you shithole! Just give me my shit and I’m…wait, get your fucking tin hands off me!” The first securobot crumbled, its face smashed in. “I’ll fucking kill y…” the high-voltage tazer interrupted his rant, leaving him on the ground, in the fetal position, shaking and soiling himself.
Melvin leaned forward, shook his head and pushed the CLOSE button under his desk, obscuring the dual-phase glass. He couldn’t see it but knew the customers on the other side would see CLOSED on the glass.
Melvin leaned back on his seat, turned on the automassage option and rubbed his face. “I hate this job sometimes…” he groaned to himself. The massage took effect and he felt himself relaxing, but turned it off before he dozed off.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and it made him jump up. “I’m awake!” he said, startled, only to find Matilda giggling behind him, she clutched a bundle of papers under her arm. “Oh, Mattie, you almost gave me a heart attack, I thought it was…”
“Thomas?” She said. “Surely I’m cuter than he is!” She frowned, but the mischievous glint in her eye told him it was a joke.
Still, he played the part. “Of course you are, Mattie, I wouldn’t dream of comparing you!”
“Good!” She nodded and then had to push her red hair out of her eyes. She often cut it short, with just a long bang over the front, combed to the side, but it was more rebellious than expected. When her hair was in its proper place again, she handed him a brown envelope. “It’s from your solicitor, Mel.”
“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said, confused, looking at the sender’s address. It had been sent from Maccallum, the Backbreaker estate’s homeworld. “Shit…”
“What is it?” Mattie leaned closer, and he could smell the soft vanilla oil she used and feel the soft wool of her sweater on his uncomfortable dress shirt.
He glanced sideways at her, the way he always did when she wasn’t paying attention, then shook the thoughts away. “It’s from my dad…”
“Oh…” she let the words hang. “Maybe he wants to talk to you, get back in touch?” She said, but couldn’t manage to sound convincing.
“Nah, he’s probably croaked!” Melvin said casually. “Ow! What was that for?” He rubbed his arm where she slapped him.
“Don’t joke about that!” She reprimanded him, her stare hard.
Oh crap, her dad…he thought, remembering it had been a few months earlier. “Sorry Mattie, but me and my dad aren’t the same as you and yours. He’s a mean old bastard, and he’d die before he ever apologised.”
Melvin opened the envelope and pulled out the long document. He skimmed through it, disregarding or filtering out the legal speech. “Well, what do ya know…” He said numbly.
“I was right…mean old bastard did croak!” He chuckled once, but it was weak. He looked in disbelief at the letter.
“Oh Mel, I’m so sorry!” She hugged him tight, then looked at his quizzical expression. “Are you ok?”
“I don’t know…” He admitted. “I always figured I’d be happy, but it just feels weird…”
“He was your dad, of course you’re not happy!” She said sternly, then her eye caught some of the letter’s content. “It says something about an inheritance there!” she pointed at the page.
Melvin skimmed the page, fast reading as they taught them when they started this job. “Wow, that’s weird and so like the old man.” He shook his head.
“What is it?”
“According to this I need to go to Maccallum to the family estate and jump through some hoops for the inheritance.”
“I don’t have a clue, it doesn’t say.”
“I think you should go!” She said firmly, locking eyes with him.
“I don’t give a damn about the inheritance!” he said offhandedly, but too loudly, making heads turn towards him.
“Just go, you need the closure!” Mattie insisted, her voice lowering to a whisper.
“I’ll think about it, ok?” He grumbled when he saw the adamant look on her face.
“Good.” She nodded and returned to her post.
Melvin did the same, pressing the CLOSE button again and forcing himself to deal with more customers.
At the end of the day, tired and still numb from the news, Melvin left the Ministry, finding Mattie waiting for him outside. “Hey.” He said flatly.
“I knew it!” She said, wiggling her finger accusingly at him before the summer breeze made her hair go wild and into her eye. “Ow!”
Melvin chuckled and helped her. “Thanks!” He said.
“I need a good laugh.” He grinned.
“You idiot!” She shook her head. “You going home?”
“Yeah, lots to think about…” he said, patting the satchel on his side.
“Want some company?” She moved in closer, locking eyes with him.
“Uh…uh…yeah…” he mumbled and she nodded.
“Great, let’s hit the off license. We’ll get you properly hammered!”
“Your dad just died! You shouldn’t spend this night sober, my friend!”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her.
Later that night and after three cases of beer and three bottles of wine, Mattie looked him in the eye. “So you goin’?” she slurred.
“You know what? I think I will!” He said, wobbling.
“Just don’t forget us little people when you’re richhhhh!” she said, taking another sip from the current victim, a bottle of rum.
“Why don’t you come with me?” He blurted out what he was thinking. Not all of what he was thinking though.
“Are you serious?” She said, the slur slapped out of her by the shock.
“Yeah! I need you there with me!” He said, the alcohol making him more honest than ever.
“I’ll need to ask for vacations, and my cat and…” She flustered and blushed.
Oblivious to it all Melvin continued. “Let’s talk to Thomas tomorrow, no way he’ll stop you from joining me to go pay my respects to my dad!” He grinned.
“Ok…” Mattie said, nodding several times before taking long gulp from the bottle.
Hope you enjoyed this version a bit more than the first draft. Next time you’ll have the finalised version of the scene, streamlined to trim the fat and with a few other fixes here and there!
During the Second Draft and Beyond article, I mentioned I’d give you examples of the iterative editing process we go through while writing a novel. This week I make good on that promise.
The following is a simple scene I will be working on for the next few weeks. For this first article, you’ll have the roughest version, the first draft. There will be mistakes, things that don’t add anything to the story and things that simply don’t work, much like there are in every first draft. As I mentioned in that article, the point of a first draft is just to get to the end. Next week, I’ll have a more polished version of it and the week after that a finalised and streamlined edition.
Do note that I have intentionally made storytelling mistakes with this draft, to make it as rough as possible. There are things you’ll pick up immediately and shake your head disapprovingly. But before you judge, wait until the next few weeks when I’ll be turning this first draft into something workable and worth reading!
This scene is for the Melvin Backbreaker story concept I outlined weeks ago.
There were days when Melvin hated his job. He was good at it, mind you, but he just loathed being a clerk sometimes. As he looked up at the burly, greasy-haired man and heard his abuse, he sighed deeply and tried to keep his best smile on his face.
The man complained about the unneeded bureaucracy, the roundabout way of doing even the simplest of things. Melvin agreed with him apologetically and raised his hands and shrugged, in a “what can you do?” kind of way. Personally, Melvin didn’t mind it, he always enjoyed order, even if it had to be in triplicate and with accompanying forms and stamps.
He opened his drawer and produced a handy guide he’d written months before, with the steps needed for almost every occasion, with the forms listed, the documents required and the processing times. He handed it to the man and hoped he would thank him and most importantly, leave.
“Breaker!” He heard his nickname called from behind him. No one called him by his surname, Backbreaker, because they thought it was silly. Melvin turned and saw the message clerk come by with a large brown envelope for him. He was just handing a few letters to Matilda, Melvin’s co-worker, friend and he wished much more. “Letter from your solicitor!”
“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said dismissively.
“Well, then your pa’s, but you got this anyway!”
Grumbling, Melvin left his post, apologising to the next person in line, a vehement old woman clutching her bag like a deadly weapon, the intent of using it clear in the malicious glint in her eye.
He almost ripped the envelope from the clerk’s hand, much to Matilda’s surprise, she’d never seen him in such a bad mood. “What does the old fool want now?” He complained, mostly to himself, but as he’d said it too loud, all eyes were on him.
He carelessly ripped into the envelope and pulled out a letter, noticing it came with a stack of documents. Probably some family paperwork I have no intention on signing.
The letter was concise and to the point. Austin Backbreaker was dead and in the envelope were the instructions Melvin needed to follow according to his father’s will. He stared at the letter for the longest time and to anyone else it might seem as if he were unable to process what had happened, but inside, he struggled with how to act. He’s dead, good riddance! He mused, but struggled to look content or happy even. Their estrangement was no secret, but no one knew just how bad things were between them.
“Breaker, everything ok?” The clerk asked.
“My father died.” He said, trying to sound shocked and numb, but the only thing that surprised him was how long it had taken.
His coworkers all approached to say how sorry they were, and in that, Melvin remained impassive, seeming stunned, but he just didn’t care.
While talking to co-workers, accepting Matilda’s support and simply nodding when people told him comforting words, he read the Will. Inside were a series of steps:
- Travel to the Backbreaker estate on Macallum. You must arrive before the 22nd of April.
- You will find all travel documents and arrangements enclosed.
- You will be briefed on the details of the inheritance process on arrival by Ducky, your father’s Butler.
- If you perform the required tasks to satisfaction, the entirety of the Backbreaker estate will be transferred to you.
Melvin went over the documents and it was just as the instructions mentioned, there were visas and even interplanetary flight tickets. They were set for tomorrow. He didn’t like his father, but the inheritance would help him quit the job and never have to look back again. In a day like this, his father dying was the best news he could’ve received.
He quickly turned and looked for his supervisor. He was in his office.
Melvin graciously pushed past his coworkers and into his Adrian Thomas’ office. “Breaker, what do you want?” He said bitterly, putting out a cigarette on the overflowing ashtray.
Melvin wished he was a better actor and could cry on demand, but just looked straight into his boss’ face. “My father died…I need to go take care of everything.” He said flatly, offering no details but handing over the solicitor’s letter, keeping the instructions to himself. “I’m taking my holidays for this…all of them.” He said, and Thomas’ eyes widened. Melvin had over two months’ worth of saved holidays. Their ministry had never set up a cut-off point for accumulated free time, as no one ever took much time off.
Melvin could see how much his supervisor wanted to deny the admittedly big request, but then he noticed everyone else was at the door, Matilda at the front and they were all glaring. Thomas sighed and nodded. “Just let us know how things go with everything, ok?” Melvin nodded. “And I am sorry for your loss, Breaker. If you need anything, let us know.”
Melvin picked up his things, gave Matilda a big hug, bit down what he’d wanted to tell her for years now, as he always did, and left to pack his bags.
He didn’t remember much of the estate, but the nightmares had always been vivid.
Come back next week when I’ll be showing you the Second Draft of this scene while pointing out all the mistakes in this one!
In past issues of this guide we’ve covered the novel writing process, from concept and planning, through the first draft and up to the last bits of editing before you put the “Finished” stamp on it.
Today I’m talking to you about another part of the process, one you don’t want to think about, ever. It’s the hardest thing we as authors can do, Walking Away.
I know that sounds like giving up, but walking away can be healthy and in fact, there are two different walks. I’ve been through one of them and the other is present in my mind and is one I’m not looking forward to but willing to do should it come to that.
Walking Away from a Concept
The first thing I knew about my novel was the character’s name. Before I decided on genre, I knew Jason Wisher would be my protagonist and I knew what kind of a person he was. But I hadn’t built his world.
I originally envisioned that as a post-human society, the entire world affected by a global phenomenon that turns humans into elementals. I call it post-human because after the event no one was Homo sapiens anymore. The entire world turned into element-wielders. Chaos would follow but out of it a new order, with a new police force. My character would be part of it.
But the concept had a flaw. As law enforcement, and to ensure the character didn’t toe thin lines of legality and criminal behaviour—which goes back to me as I am an extremely legal person—his options were limited. There were investigative avenues that he couldn’t take, because he was a by-the-book character. An independent contractor might be able to flaunt rules more defiantly and openly but a cop shouldn’t.
I already had a concept planned for the first novel and beyond, but when it came to the writing I was stuck. I knew where the investigation had to go but because of the restrictions I’d placed on the character and his narrative, I couldn’t push forward. In looking for an answer, I questioned the very nature of my new world, of the people in it, how do they maintain control and I came up short on answers.
I decided to walk away from that world. I still kept the characters and some ideas but I scrapped that sci-fi world. I started to think on what would fit the type of story I wanted to tell, the character I wanted to develop, and the moment I opened myself to new concepts and having discarded the previous one, I found the answer in Urban Fantasy. The pieces came together and I had explanations for everything. It was a cohesive and consistent world. The rules worked in-universe and my character had many more avenues and opportunities not only for investigations but also for growth.
Walking away from a concept is a tough decision, but if things aren’t working. If you can’t answer the hard questions about your world, if you can’t explain everything or if the story just isn’t going anywhere under the rules you’ve established, then it might be time to say goodbye to this concept. Keep as much as you can, but open yourself to changes and new ideas.
I kept character names and ethnicity for mine, but their roles and even species changed.
It’s not an easy choice, but it might be the one you need to make to find the world you want to and should write. I’m not a believer in inspiration, muses and writer’s block. Hard work is all there is, but you can’t force creativity and imagination. If the concept stifles you and makes the writing process harder than it already is, then perhaps it’s not worth it. Perhaps it’s the wrong concept or even genre.
You just need to recognize that it’s time to move on.
Walking Away from a Manuscript
This is the hard one, the truly hard one, and not one you come to lightly—or at all. I only became aware of it after reading a blog post made by an author.
In the previous guide I spoke to you about all the editing process, of getting through your work to streamline, improve, optimise and generally do everything in your power to make your novel the best it can be.
If you choose to look for representation or for a publisher, be prepared for rejection. I still remember the first rejection letter I received and one day I’ll frame it. As many will tell you, it’s a very subjective business and what someone likes another will definitely hate.
Why am I telling you this? Because after each rejection you’ll undoubtedly try to fix something in your novel, that one thing you’re sure was the reason the agent/publisher rejected you. And you’ll do so with neurotic abandon.
But there’s only so much you can fix, only so much you can scrape off.
There comes a time when you have to look at your manuscript and put it aside, walking away from it and towards other ventures. If there’s a fantastic story in your head waiting to be told, don’t let the quest for publication stop you from doing it. If one manuscript is getting nowhere, then you might need to consider letting go and focus your energies on a new project and then try to get that one published.
Don’t Give up too early
Or at all, is what I’d like to say.
I know I’ve just spoken to you about giving up and packing up and leaving things. But you should never do it lightly. Never do it without fighting. Only do so when you’ve reached the point where you’re not getting anywhere, either with the concept or the querying.
And before you decide to give up on the manuscript altogether, maybe you should consider independent publishing. Is it something you’re interested in; is it something you can afford? If the answer’s yes, the maybe that’s the road you should take.
But if not, then maybe it’s time to let it go.
I had originally intended on this being the last guide for this series, but as I’ve written and as is always the case, I’ve had more ideas. This will be the last on the process, however, unless I get a request to cover a specific part of it. Future guides will be more about storytelling itself, my advice on handling different types of scenes.
As always, I hope this has been of some help.
Last time we spoke of the last steps of the planning stage, The Outline, and the first actual draft of your novel. With that done, and hopefully after you’ve taken some time off from it to clear your head, it’s time for the next stage:
Part IV – The Second Draft
While the first draft’s purpose is to get your basic story on paper—and for you to actually finish writing it—the second is where you give in to your urges to go back and fix everything that is wrong with the novel.
Take out the documents you’ve prepared with subplots and changes you thought of during the previous step and alter your outline to include them. In doing so, you’ll revise and refine these new ideas and go back to your world building to expand upon them.
One thing I like to do is save a copy of the first draft and rename it Second Draft, so I can work on that one without losing the original. I prefer digital mediums so I can keep what works from the first draft without having to rewrite any of it.
Now that you’ve taken care of all the preliminary steps, you have to read. Starting from the first page of your novel, read it carefully and make amends, rewrite or simply cut paragraphs that don’t add enough—or anything at all—to your plot. Improve the flow of sentences, conversations and scenes. Add in your new (sub)plot details and keep working on everything on a page-by-page or chapter-by-chapter basis.
While the hard rule of the first draft was to never look back, the Second Draft is all about that. Still I would recommend just pushing forwards, revising each chapter, then once you reach the end go back to the start and do it all over again. You’ll probably have to do multiple passes.
Eventually it’ll all reach a stage where you’re more-or-less happy with it—writers are, in general, their worst critics and will never be truly happy with something they’ve worked on.
With my first novel, I did two passes. The first one adding the new plot elements and tightening the existing ones and the second pass working on the prose.
Once you’ve reached that stage, where you feel there’s nothing else you can do to improve it, you’re ready for the next steps, where you’ll realise just how wrong you are.
Part V – Proofreading
DO NOT PROOFREAD YOURSELF!
Sorry about the caps, but it’s very important you understand this. Once you’ve finished work on your second draft, your head will be full of everything you’ve written and you won’t see any of your writing errors clearly. In fact, even taking a short break won’t help.
You need outside help. Get someone you trust, particularly someone with an eye for detail and have them proofread your novel. If you don’t know anyone with those skills, then hire a freelancer, you can usually get proofreading done quite cheap.
I was fortunate that I was seeing someone at the time with impressive proofreading and editing skills. They went through my novel and made so many annotations I was often joyful when I saw an unaltered paragraph.
Depending on the person and the length of your story, this step might take some time, hopefully enough to refresh your mind and eyes.
Once your proofreader finishes—and hopefully gives you brutally honest feedback on your novel, or at least tells you if it’s any good—it’s time to get back to work.
Part VI – Editing
I call this step editing because it’s what you’ll be doing for a while. I could call it Third, Fourth and Fifth Drafts, but that would just get confusing.
With your proofreader’s work done, you need to make all the proposed changes. Depending on their skills, the changes can be simply grammatical or even alter entire sentences. My proofreader added their own suggestions and I used those to work on my text and as I did, I picked up other errors in style and flow that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Your first proofreader, if they’re someone in your life, is also your Alpha Reader (you’ll get Beta ones before the novel is finished), and you can usually expect some greater feedback from them than from a stranger. Mine made me realise some conversations sounded forced and needed some rewriting.
Part VII – Streamlining
This step is optional but I do recommend it.
It’s said that the average novel length is 90.000 words, and it’s true there are Agents out there that will not take any fiction with a lower word count; but the truth is your novel doesn’t have to have a set number of words. A smooth and easy to read prose will trump any word count.
Streamlining means optimising your novel and you do this in a few ways:
- Take long sentences and shorten them. Say as much as you can in as few words as possible. The closer you can get to that “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn” often attributed to Hemmingway, the better.
- If you have a description or an info-dump that doesn’t add anything to the plot, consider taking it out entirely. During the writing process, we add plenty of world building but unless it adds context to current or future scenes in the novel, then it might be best to cut it.
- In general and very important if you’re writing in the 3rd person, make sure you have as little exposition as possible. It’s best to show than tell.
- First person narrative is more forgiving when it comes to exposition. For example, a Detective character could have pages on connecting the dots and thinking of motives. It’s exposition but since you generally assume the story is the character’s narration or an inner monologue, it’s easier to digest.
- Remove all instances of purple-prose, and by that, I mean overly complicated sentences or visualisation. It’s annoying.
- Smooth out conversations and try to split/cut long monologues, unless the scene calls for it.
- Example, if your character is an expert on a subject. In this case, you could have him monologue for a bit if they ask him for his opinion or advice.
By the time you’re done, you should’ve been able to trim around 20-30% of your total word count and you can be sure your prose will be much easier to read.
With the streamlining done, you’re close to the end.
Part VIII – Final Steps
Yes, sounds dramatic, I know, but in truth it’s just a second/third/fourth/Nth round of proofreading and editing. But your readers in this step are what many call their Beta Readers.
With all the work you’ve put into the novel at this point, you’ll want your Betas to focus on flow, pace and plot, but not without forgetting to check the writing itself.
To give you an example of what my current Betas have done for me: They’ve praised the style, pacing and characters, which I was happy about, but they also told me some of the expositions—aka info-dumps—broke their immersion in a scene and made it difficult to dive back in. They also told me I had to add more ‘senses’ to my prose, not just sound (dialogue), but sight, smell, touch, etc. It’s something I thought I was doing already, but really hadn’t. Do note that you don’t need to add all five every single time, but senses others than sight or hearing sometimes enhance scenes.
Picture a scene with a character opening a door to find decaying bodies. You could perfectly well describe his shock and horror at the rotting corpses, but you’ll enhance the scene by adding smell, such as the stench wafting from the remains, and which he could smell from across the hallway. If you mention his gag or retch to the sight and smell, you’ll add a relatable physical experience that will further draw your readers in.
Beta Readers will help you bring your novel to a finalised state—after a few rounds of editing and re-reading—after which you can consider submissions for Agents or Publishers. For publishers you might consider hiring a Professional Editor to work on your novel. For agents, it’s not important, as Editing is part of the publishing process.
As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed and found this guide helpful. Come back in two weeks for the hardest lesson any writer has to learn: walking away. I’ll explain it all on 17 April. I’m also working on a few examples of First Draft vs Second Draft and beyond. To make sure they’re as good as possible, they might take some time, but you will get them!